Distribution tech spreads a little Christmas cheer

“Some toys are made from love, love for the toy and the design and the art and the thought that a child’s going to play with it and enjoy it.”

So says Josh Diament of toy distributors Stortz & Associates. The Canadian company specialises in supplying eco-friendly toys to shops across the country, reports The BBC.

Father Christmas has his sleigh and an army of elves to help make sure that all the toys get to the right place for Christmas day.

But how does a small company, which started in founder Linda Stortz’s basement and a decade later now has 10 employees, track stock and make sure inventory gets to where it needs to be in a timely fashion?

Weighing it up
The answer is enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. It’s something all the big players use – and using industry-leading products like SAP’s NetSuite has a correspondingly-big price tag.

“I thoroughly investigated the solutions that are out there,” says Mr Diament. Many of the products didn’t translate well to a small business distribution environment, he says. Almost all were too expensive.

Finally, after considering and discarding a procession of products, he settled on start-up BizSlate.

“BizSlate is developed to really control your inventory, sometimes we have customers that want certain size boxes and labels, that’s already included.

“Some customers, they want to get eight in a box, they don’t want six. BizSlate does it really well to pull inventory, recognize what’s left in open stock, do your packs, tell you how many boxes you need.”

The software-as-a-service (SaaS) system is web-based, with data held in the cloud, and no need to install expensive servers.

It is customisable, with optional industry-specific functionality, and lets small businesses manage everything including customers, vendors, orders, inventory, order processing and overall supply chain. It also integrates with Quickbooks (small business accounting software).

Mr Diament believes that as well as cost – he estimates it comes in at about 30% of the average quote he was given elsewhere – his ability to give feedback sets it apart.

“[Founder Marc Kalman] really knows the distribution business,” he says.

“It’s not going to save you, it’s not going to create anything for you, it’s not going to make your business.

“However if you have something going on now it is an accelerator. It’s going to help you do things quicker. It’s going to enable you to have a faster workflow.”

Marc Kalman has worked in distribution and supply chain technology most of his working life.

“One of the things I found is that it was surprising to me that there aren’t more solution providers that cater to this market,” he says.

“When we started initially, before we wrote a single line of code, we made very few assumptions on our own.”

He has instituted a 19 customer steering committee that works to improve the product.

“I’ve sat down with everyone one and one, we tour the warehouse, we look at how their internal staff operates.

“I ask them, I don’t want to know what you like or dislike about your current system, just talk to me about what you need. Because it’s clear to me there are companies out there but no one’s done a good job of solving the problems small companies face in a small business market.”